Tunisia’s foreign minister confirmed Friday that ten Tunisian diplomats, seized by Libyan gunmen linked to the Tripoli government, have been released and have flown home. The foreign minister has denied that the diplomats had been traded for a militia leader and announced that Tunisia is closing its consulate in Tripoli because of the Libyan authorities’ inability to ensure diplomats’ security.
On 12 June, the Libyan Dawn militia stormed the Tunisian consulate in Tripoli and seized the diplomats. Mokhtar Chaouachi, a spokesman for the Tunisian Foreign Ministry, disclosed at the time that it remained unclear whether the attackers were holding the hostages on site or had taken them elsewhere, adding that he did not know whether the attackers had opened fire or had made any demands in exchange for the captives. On Saturday, the interior minister for Libya’s self-declared government indicated that ten Tunisan counsellor staff kidnapped in the country’s capital city are in good condition and that contact has been made with their captors. According to Interior Minister Mohamed Shaiteer, “I am in contact with the group who abducted the Tunisian staff and hopefully the staff will be freed soon.”
Early last week, a Libyan official and Tunisian source reported that three of the ten Tunisian consular staff had been freed, adding that negotiations over the remaining hostages were continuing. Speaking to reporters, Faraj Swahili, a Libyan diplomat police official, disclosed “three diplomats have been freed…after they were kidnapped in the capital Tripoli,” adding “the other seven diplomats will be released when the Libyan detainee in Tunis, Walid Kalib, is released by Tunisian authorities.” Last month, Tunisian authorities arrested Kalib, who is a member of Libya Dawn. A Tunisian court has refused to release Kalib, who faces kidnapping charges in Tunisia.
9 July – Roadside bomb kills 1, injures 4
An Egyptian soldier was killed after a roadside bomb targeted armoured vehicle in El-Arish, in the Sinai Peninsula. The attack also wounded four soldiers.
Egypt experienced a short period of peace immediately following Egyptian President al-Sisi’s election; however, bombings and protests have resumed. On the one year anniversary of the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, the nation experienced a series of bombings in Kerdasa, Abbaseya, and Imbaba. Security forces and government buildings have been regularly targeted, but several incidents have killed and wounded civilian bystanders.
In Alexandria, police forces arrested four suspects on 7 June in connection with bomb blasts in a train station in Alexandria earlier in the week. The explosion took place between two of the cars of a train heading to Sidi Gaber neighbourhood, injuring seven. The suspects were reportedly “young members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were trained by high profile leaders to attack police facilities and public transportations”, according to Egypt’s Interior Ministry. In a statement released on Friday, the ministry accused the Muslim Brotherhood of attempting to create “a state of chaos”.
10 July – Islamic State seizes nuclear materials
Iraq’s envoy, in a letter to the UN, has warned that the militant group ISIS has seized nuclear materials in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The group obtained approximately 40 kilograms of uranium compounds, used for scientific research at a university. The UN atomic agency (IAEA) has said the low-grade material is not a significant security risk. US officials echoed these remarks, stating that the uranium was not believed to be enriched, and unlikely to be useful for weapons development.
The letter sent to the UN by Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim called for international assistance to “stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad”. Al-Alhakim added, “Terrorist groups have seized control of nuclear material at the sites that came out of the control of the state […] These nuclear materials, despite the limited amounts mentioned, can enable terrorist groups, with the availability of the required expertise, to use it separately or in combination with other materials in its terrorist acts.” Despite the uranium’s lack of utility, an IAEA spokesperson said “any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern”.
A day before the letter was received, Iraqi officials confirmed that ISIS had militants captured the Muthanna complex, an abandoned chemical weapons factory northwest of Baghdad. The complex houses remnants of rockets containing nerve agents, including sarin gas. ISIS is now in control of an area between Iraq and Syria that is approximately the size of Belgium.
8 July – Israel, Palestine attacks continue
An Israeli military spokesman has said that since Monday, Israeli air forces attacked 750 targets and dropped 800 tons of bombs. Palestinian militants fired 230 rockets from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. On 9 July, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that Israel has expanded Operation Protective Edge in response to the continuing rocket attacks, he has also called on reservists suggested that a ground phase could occur. Fighting has escalated after three Israeli teens that went missing were found dead. The Israeli government accused Hamas, which has denied responsibility. Retaliatory attacks on Palestinians have left 75 dead, including 15 children.
7 July – ISIS Leader suggests Jordan is next target
ISIS leader and self proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has suggested that Jordan will be the next target for ISIS, and refugees who have fled there could be first in the line of fire. The Jordanian military has been on the offensive for several weeks as ISIS gained traction in Iraq, but it is now believed that Syrian civilians at the Azraq camp near the Iraqi border are in the danger zone.
Oraib al-Rantawi, a Jordanian political analyst, called the threat by ISIS “real and imminent”, adding, “We cannot afford the luxury of just waiting and monitoring. The danger is strategic – and getting closer.”
The US Department of Defence has awarded a contract to Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to supply twenty Javelin Block 1 tactical missiles to Jordan’s military, to be completed by 30 September.
7 July – 28 arrested in Lebanon for suicide bomb plot
Twenty-eight people, reportedly members of the militant group ISIS, have been charged with buying equipment to carry out suicide bomb attacks in Beirut. Seven of the group are in custody. The names and nationalities of those charged have not been released.
Lebanon has been in the crossfire of sectarian violence do to conflicts in Syria and the ISIS insurgencies in Iraq and Syria. The nation has suffered a series of attacks in recent weeks. On 20 June, Lebanon’s General Security service narrowly escaped a suicide bombing near the Syrian border. On 23 June, a suicide bomber blew up his car near an army checkpoint in Beirut, killing himself and a security officer. Two days later, a Saudi suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the Saudi embassy, wounding three security officers.
Lebanese authorities have carried out a series of security raids in the capital and other parts of the country in recent weeks. In mid June, security forces detained 17 people at a Beirut hotel on suspicion of planning attacks; the French foreign ministry confirmed that at least one of the men detained was a French National. All were released the following day.
15 June – Hiftar facing dwindling support
Libya’s rogue general, Khalifa Hifter, is losing support for his revolt against militants in Eastern Libya. Many Libyans initially supported Hifter’s plan to drive extremists out of Benghazi, particularly as the weakened government had failed to take significant action in the region. However, Hifter troops have been unable to gain the advantage against the rebels, and many believe his actions are laying the ground for his political aspirations.
In Benghazi, the militant group Ansar al-Sharia is responsible for a great deal of violence in the region. Hifter initially set out to target this group, but his mission expanded to include other Islamists in the region. Hifter’s expanded mission and subsequent standoff has resulted in damage to homes, farms, and livestock. One tribe in Benghazi has demanded that Hifter’s troops leave the area or it would join the fight against him, officials and residents there said.
Hifter also oversaw the storming of the GNC building in Tripoli in May, convincing some that the 71 year old general has political goals. He called for an emergency government to replace the GNC and guide the country toward new elections. Since then, Hifter has made blanket indictments of Libya’s nonmilitant Islamists as well as the insurgents. Many believe he is styling himself after Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, led a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt over the past year. During a recent news conference, Hifter called the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood an “epidemic” that “the Libyan soil will not absorb.” Many Islamist supporters who disagree with militant actions now feel targeted.
One member of Libya’s General National Congress said, “Hifter inserted himself into a scenario where he is the cavalier on a white horse who came to save the day.” He added, however, “Hifter’s military power is actually quite limited. He hasn’t been able to control the situation.”
An anonymous former member of a brigade in Benghazi said, “Both sides — Ansar al-Sharia and Hifter — are illegal bodies working outside the state. So it’s a dilemma for everybody, and we don’t like either of them. We are worried about where this violence will take us.”
10 July – ISIS to Qatar: “Cancel the World Cup or we’ll bomb it”
In a message posted on an ISIS media forum, the group has warned FIFA, the governing body of world football, that they will bomb the World Cup if it is held in Qatar in 2022. The group said they would target the event with long-range Scud missiles. The full message reads:
“Dear Joseph, [Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, President of FIFA]
We had sent a message to you back in 2010, when you decided or were bribed by the former Amir of Qatar to have the 2022 world cup in Qatar. Now, after the establishment of the Caliphate state, we declare that there will be no world cup in Qatar since Qatar will be part of the Caliphate under the rule of the Caliph Ibrahim Bin Awad Alqarshi (Al Baghdady’s full name) who doesn’t allow corruption and diversion from Islam in the land of the Muslims. This is why we suggest that you will decide upon a replacement country instead of Qatar. The Islamic state has long-rang scud missiles that can easily reach Qatar, as the Americans already know.
Photos released earlier this month show ISIS militants parading a Scud ballistic missile through the streets of Raqqa in Syria. It is likely the insurgents captured the missile from a Syrian military base in 2013. However experts do not believe the missile is operable. One astute blogger wrote, “The only danger that Islamic State scud is to anyone at the moment is if they accidentally run over a pedestrian showing it off”.
8 July – Saudi Arabia faces security crisis on two borders
Three mortar bombs landed inside Saudi Arabia, near a block of flats outside the northern town of Arar, near the Iraqi border. There were no casualties reported, however the mortars stoked fears in citizens who are facing ISIS on their Iraqi border. Last week, King Abdullah announced an increase in security after Islamic State declared a caliphate and made advances in Iraq. The kingdom is deploying 30,000 troops to its borders. Saudi authorities fear that the militant group could radicalise their citizens.
In the south, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen, has long had the goal of bringing down the House of Saud and establishing a cross-border caliphate in Islam’s holy city of Mecca. Over the weekend, six Saudi members of al Qaeda launched an attack on al-Sharurah, near the border with Yemen. Two of the militants grabbed 10 hostages and shut themselves into a government building where they blew themselves up on Saturday. Five attackers were killed and one was captured in clashes with security forces. Four border guards and one hostage were also killed.
8 July – Popular Radical Australian Cleric joins Islamic State
Musa Cerantonio, a radical Muslim cleric who renounced his Australian citizenship last year, has travelled to Syria to support the newly established Islamic State, making him the third cleric from Australia to travel to Syria to support the jihadist cause. Cerantonio left Australia in 2013 and was believed to be hiding in the Philippines, possibly taking shelter with one of several al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups in the area. The cleric openly supported ISIS prior to their declaration of a caliphate, and subsequently travelled to Syria to fulfil the request made by the Islamic State on 1 July for Muslims, especially those with needed skills, to join the caliphate.
Cerantonio, a popular figure in radicalised circles, relies on effective social media to spread his message. He has re-tweeted ISIS statements as well as his own support for the group while calling for the death of Western leaders. A 2014 by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation concluded that one in four foreign fighters followed Cerantonio’s Twitter account and that his Facebook page was the third-most ‘liked’ page among radicalised militants.
Meanwhile, a UN report released on Tuesday suggests that the Middle East could become embroiled in wider sectarian warfare. The report states, “Growing numbers of radical fighters are targeting not only Sunni (Muslim) communities under their control but also minority communities including the Shi’ites, Alawites, Christians, Armenians, Druze and Kurds.” The report adds, “ISIL has shown itself willing to fan the flames of sectarianism, both in Iraq and in Syria. Any strengthening of their position gives rise to great concern.”
9 July – Tunisia raises terror alert level
Tunisia has raised its security alert level in cities and at sensitive sites, especially during iftar, the breaking of fast at sunset during Ramadan. The move came following a landmine blast that killed four soldiers July 2nd on Jebel Ouergha, El Kef province. A mine blast in the same area wounded six troops a day earlier.
During the funeral of the four slain soldiers, Defence Minister Ghazi Jeribi vowed that security forces would track down and besiege the terrorists to prevent new attacks on civilian and military targets. He stated that the war on terror “is of concern to all Tunisian people and requires that all be mobilised to protect our homeland.”
Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa echoed these sentiments: “We are no longer waiting for terrorism to come to us, but have gone to its hotbeds in order to confront it and eliminate them.”
Security forces have begun to storm terrorist hideouts in the mountains along the Algerian border, between Jendouba and El Kef provinces. Tunisian forces have been fighting al-Qaeda affiliated militants barricaded in the mountains for over a year.
8 July – Thousands of families flee fighting in Amran
As many as ten thousand families have fled the Yemeni city of Amran, 30 miles north of the capital Sanaa. The families evacuated to escape a battle between Shi’a rebels and the military. Clashes broke out last week between Yemeni troops and the Houthis, a rebel group which seeks greater autonomy for northern Yemen. The attack ended a ceasefire that had been set in place on 23 June. Local officials claim that over 200 people had been killed and 100 wounded on Tuesday as rebel groups captured the area. The officials also reported dozens of bodies were lying in the streets.
The Houthis, a Shi’a group, have said their fight was against members of the Sunni Islamist Islah political party. The Houthis claim to have no intention of attacking Sanaa, but Amran has long been a stronghold of the the Bani al-Ahmar tribe, whose members hold prominent positions of the party.
The Houthis have accused the Yemeni government of breaking the ceasefire and blame army units loyal to Islah for advancing in the Jawf province. The government responded that the advance was prompted by the failure of Houthis to vacate positions as they had promised.
The Yemeni Red Crescent has issued a call for help. It is believed that nearly 5,000 families remain trapped inside the city.
Unidentified gunmen have kidnapped a Tunisian diplomat in Tripoli. The abduction was confirmed Saturday by Tunisia’s foreign minister.
According to embassy sources, the incident occurred late Friday when the kidnappers forces Mohamed bin Sheikh into their vehicle in the Ain Zara suburb of eastern Tripoli. The diplomat is a secretary to the Tunisian ambassador in Libya.
Speaking Saturday, Tunisian Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi confirmed that “a Tunisian diplomat was kidnapped in Tripoli…” adding “the Tunisian ambassador told me that his car was found empty.” Tunisia’s ministry is currently in contact with Libyan authorities to obtain more information and to set up efforts to secure Mr Sheikh’s release. They have also urged Libyan authorities to protect members of its diplomatic mission.
Although the motive behind the abduction remains unclear, with no group claiming responsibility or demanding a ransom, some sources have suggested that the move may be linked to Tunisia’s war against its own Ansar al-Sharia, which has connections to Ansar in Libya.
This latest abduction is just one of a string of diplomatic abductions that have occurred in the Libyan capital this year alone. It further demonstrates the weak Libyan government’s struggle to curb militias while it attempts to build a democracy after four decades of dictatorship under Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
In January, five Egyptian diplomats were briefly kidnapped in Tripoli in what security officials stated at the time was in retaliation for Egypt’s arrest of a Libyan militia chief. They were later freed, with Egypt also releasing the militia commander. During the same month, a South Korean trade official was kidnapped as he left his office in Tripoli. He was freed days later by security forces. Libyan officials later stated that his kidnapping was not politically motivated.
Although there has been a rise in the number of abductions of foreign diplomats in Libya, the threat of kidnapping has not been solely focused on officials. In recent months, foreigners have also been targeted, however the motives remain unclear. In December 2013, an American teacher was shot dead in Benghazi while in January, a British man and a New Zealand woman were shot execution-style on a beach in western Libya.
Three years after Libya’s revolt to topple Muammar Gaddafi, the North African country continues to struggle to impose security as brigades of former rebels, Islamist militants and ex-fighters refuse to disarm. While Libyans view these groups as both a blessing and a curse, as on the one hand in the absence of an effective army they provide security across much of the country and protect the borders, on the other hand, they have taken the law into their own hands, with some groups being accused of human rights abuses and unlawful detention. One of the most high-profile incidents involving these militias was the October 2013 kidnapping of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan by a group which was originally set up to provide security in the capital city. In turn, these militia groups have also been involved in a number of clashes. In November 2013, clashes broke out in the capital between militias from the town of Misrata and local protesters. The incident left more than fifty people dead and hundreds wounded. It also sparked a backlash against the armed groups in Tripoli, resulting in several of the militias leaving the capital, including Misrata and Zintan who had been there ever since the war.
Algerian National Police deployed in Territorial Clashes
(29 January) Algerian authorities have arrested 60 people after a month of territorial clashes between Arabs and Berbers in Ghardaia. Ghardaia is oasis town on the edge of the Sahara desert, and has seen repeated clashes which have left two people dead, dozens injured and many shops burned. Last week, Algerian national police were sent to the town to restore calm. Berbers, who were the original inhabitants of North Africa, have accused local police of encouraging the Arabs. Three officers have been suspended after a video surfaced showing their alleged involvement. Thus far, 20 people have been charged with arson, theft and assault; 10 others are under house arrest and another 30 are in custody awaiting questioning.
Algeria to Regulate Mosques
(28 January) The Algerian government is calling on imams to become fully engaged in the fight against extremism. Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdellah Ghlamallah said, “Mosques also have a part to play in preserving society and protecting it against division and hatred.” The government has trained 800 imams were trained between 2010 and 2012, and recruited 1,500 imam-lecturers and 240 principal imams.
The Algerian government wants to take back control of mosques used by extremist groups to spread messages of hatred and violence. Earlier this month, the government published a decree to regulate the 20,000 mosques in the nation. This law, the first of its kind, aims to enable mosques to conduct their role independently of political or other influences. The law explains that religious institutions must “help strengthen religious and national unity, protect society from fanatical, extremist and excessive ideas, foster and consolidate the values of tolerance and solidarity in society, combat violence and hatred, and counter anything that could harm the country.” The law also strictly forbids use of mosques for illicit, personal or collective goals, or for purely material ends, and prohibits use of mosques to harm people or groups. The law also covers the role of mosques in cultural, educational and social spheres, and subjects monetary collections to administrative authorisation. The decree has been positively received by the public.
Bahraini court shuts down Shi’ite clerical group
(29 January) A Bahraini court has ordered the dissolution of a group of Shiite Muslim clerics, declaring the group illegal. The decision comes after the revival of stalled reconciliation talks between the Sunni ruling family and Shiite opposition, and could harm reconciliation efforts to end political unrest that has occurred since 2011.
The court’s decision says that the Islamic Scholars’ Council, which has close ties to Shiite opposition group al-Wefaq, was not officially registered in Bahrain. Further, the group is believed to have adopted “a dangerous political and sectarian role.” Information Minister Sameera Rajab said, “The group that makes up the council includes political clerics who use the religious pulpit for political and sectarian incitement.” Rajab believes that the ruling should not stop dialogue with the opposition; however, members of the opposition have said that the ruling would have a negative effect on any attempts to move forward with the reconciliation process.
IED detonated in front of Security Forces Barracks
(31 January) Two improvised explosive devices were detonated in front of a Giza Central Security Forces barracks on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, injuring a police officer. The explosions severely damaged a central security vehicle parked in front of the camp. A wave of attacks by Islamic militants has swept across Egypt in the weeks since the mid-January constitutional referendum. Last Friday, four bombs exploded in different areas of Cairo, killing 6.
Twenty Journalists face charges in Egypt
(29 January) Twenty journalists are facing charges in Egypt. Sixteen of the journalists are Egyptians accused of belonging to a terrorist group, harming national unity and social peace, and using terrorism as a means to their goals. Four are foreigners accused of assisting the organisation by providing them with information, equipment, and money, and broadcasting false information and rumours to convince the international community that Egypt was undergoing a civil war. The defendants include two Britons, a Dutch national and an Australian. No names are mentioned, but warrants state that four foreigners were correspondents for al-Jazeera news network.
Eight of the defendants are in detention; 12 are on the run with arrest warrants issued against them. International news organisations have issued a joint call for the immediate release of all journalists held in Egypt.
Armed men storm government building in Iraq
(30 January) Eight armed men assaulted an office of Iraq’s transportation ministry in northeast Baghdad, killing at least 20 people and briefly taking a number of civil servants hostage. Four of the eight men are believed to have been killed in clashes with security forces. Security forces sealed off the surrounding area, which houses other government offices including the headquarters of the transport ministry and a human rights ministry building. No group has claimed yet responsibility, but fighters affiliated with the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have mounted similar armed attacks on Iraqi government buildings.
On Thursday, bombings took place near a market and a restaurant in the Shia-majority neighbourhoods of Kasra and Talbiyah killed six people. On Wednesday, several car bombs detonated in predominantly Shia cities of Baghdad Jadidah, Shuala and Talbiyah, leaving nine people dead. Attacks on Wednesday also hit the outskirts of the capital, as well as the northern cities of Mosul and Tuz Khurmatu, killing seven others.
The death toll from Iraqi violence in January has gone past 900. With upcoming elections in three months, security forces have been grappling with intensifying violence and an extended standoff with anti-government fighters in western Anbar province. The fighters hold all of Fallujah, right next to Baghdad. ISIL has been involved in the fighting. The standoff has forced more than 140,000 people to flee their homes, the worst displacement in Iraq since the 2006-2008 sectarian conflict.
Man admits transporting bombs
(31 January) Omar Ibrahim Al Atrash, who was arrested last week, has confessed to transporting suicide bombers and car bombs between Syria and Lebanon, including to Beirut. Atrash has admitted ties to three wanted individuals, as well as to AQ-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, ISIL and Al Nusra Front. Atrash has “admitted to transporting car bombs to Beirut” after receiving them from a Syrian, and “transporting suicide bombers of different Arab nationalities into Syria and handing them over to the Nusra Front.” The army said two of the car bombs transported by Atrash had blown up, but it did not specify where.
Many bomb attacks have targeted strongholds of Hezbollah, which has drawn the ire of Sunni extremist groups in part because of its role fighting alongside the regime in Syria. Though Hezbollah is thought to be the target of the attacks, those killed in the bombings have largely been civilians.
Clashes erupt after kidnapping official’s son in Benghazi
(31 January) Clashes erupted Benghazi after the son of a commander in the army’s Special Forces was kidnapped. The clashes left at least one soldier dead and wounded two other army personnel.
The unknown kidnappers demanded that Libya’s special forces’ commander, Brigadier-General Wanis Bu Khamada, pull his forces from the city, especially the districts of al-Hawari and Gwarsha, in exchange of releasing his abducted son. While several military facilities are located in the listed districts, they are controlled by militias of former rebels
The heaviest clashes were reportedly seen at a base operated by the Brigade of the February 17 Martyrs, a group of former Islamist rebels; however the group denied kidnapping the general’s son on its Facebook page.
Ali Bu Khamada was taken outside Benghazi University, where he is a student. He tried resisting his kidnappers and appeared to have been injured by a gunshot. Last week, Special Forces announced the arrest of four suspects in possession of a hit list of officers that were to be targeted, or were already killed. A military source said the abduction was carried out to pressure the Special Forces to release prisoners held by the army.
Libya minister survives assassination attempt
(29 January) Libya’s acting interior minister, Al-Sidik Abdul-Karim, has escaped an assassination attempt in Tripoli. Karim was on his way to a meeting when his car came under fire from unknown gunmen. After the attack, Al-Sidik Abdul-Karim said in a statement: “Libya’s men will not be intimidated by bullets, bombs or rockets.” Earlier in January, deputy industry minister Hassan al-Droui was shot dead; the first killing of a member of the interim government. No group has claimed responsibility.
The transitional government has been struggling to assert itself over up to 1,700 different armed militias, each with their own goals. Local officials in various regions of Libya have also been killed. Most cases remain unsolved and only few arrests have so far been made. Last week, the political instability in Libya worsened when the Justice and Construction Party, the second largest party in the interim administration, said it was quitting the government. The group made the announcement after it failed to win sufficient support for a motion to censure Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. The move could deepen the deadlock in the interim parliament, and increase political infighting.
Syrian peace talks draw to a close
(31 January) The Syrian government and opposition traded insults after a week-long peace conference in Geneva. The conference ended with no firm agreement. Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the opposition were immature, while the opposition’s Louay Safi said the regime had no desire to stop the bloodshed.
More talks are scheduled for 10 February. The opposition has agreed to take part, but Mr Muallem refused to commit, stating, “We represent the concerns and interests of our people. If we find that [another meeting] is their demand, then we will come back.” Opposition representative Safi said the opposition would not sit in talks “endlessly”, and urged the government to “talk seriously about transferring power”.
The two sides discussed humanitarian issues and possible ways to end the violence and made some agreements on access for humanitarian aid in some parts of the country. Both sides agreed to use a 2012 document known as the Geneva Communiqué, which includes proposals for a transitional government and democratic elections, as a basis for discussions. The opposition has insisted on addressing the transitional government issue, but the government has been stressing that the first step is to discuss “terrorism”. Diplomats have said that a top priority is to keep the talks process going, in the hope that hard-line positions can be modified over time.
Tunisia Signs New Constitution, Appoints Government
(January 30) Tunisia has a new constitution has been signed, and control of the government has passed from former Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh to Mehdi Jomaa. Citizens are hopeful for major change in the country. The country’s president is Moncef Marzouki, told reporters that the newly-signed constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women, requires that the government protect the environment and work to stop corruption, and puts power into two men’s hands. Power over the country is split between Marzouki and Jomaa. Marzouki will have important roles in defensc and foreign affairs; Jomaa will have the dominant role in the government.The caretaker government will run the country until elections, which will be held on an unspecified date this year.
Activists and media have criticized the new constitution, noting that it doesn’t do enough to reflect what the citizens want and that the committee drafting the document did not have the power to change constitutional sections on the right to strike and freedom of expression. There is also concern that the document doesn’t do enough to protect men from violence. The document does not ban the death penalty, but makes accusing people of being nonbelievers an illegal act. Attacks on religion are also restricted. The creation of this document presumably brings the Arab Spring to a close in Tunisia.
Suspected militants kill 15 soldiers in Yemen
(31 January) Fifteen soldiers were killed and four wounded by suspected al Qaeda militants in an attack on an army checkpoint in south-eastern Yemen on Friday. The soldiers were ambushed as they were having lunch in a desert area near the city of Shibam, in the eastern province of Hadramout. The gunmen were likely to be al Qaeda militants. Hadramout, a center of Yemen’s modest oil production, has been hit by sporadic fighting between government forces and a big tribal confederation, after a senior tribesman was killed in a shootout at an army checkpoint in December.
Military sources connected close to an on-going French military operation in northern Mali have confirmed that the counter-terrorism offensive concluded on Friday, with eleven Islamist militants killed and one French soldier wounded.
An official from France’s Operation Serval has indicated “the French military operation in the Timbuktu region is completed. Eleven terrorists were killed. A French soldier was wounded but his life is not in danger.” A Malian military source has also confirmed the information, stating, “the French have done a good job, because the jihadists, notably from Libya, are reorganising to occupy the region and dig in permanently.” The source further indicated that military equipment and phones belonging to the militants were seized by French troops during the operation, which took place a few hundred kilometres north of Timbuktu.
According to military sources stationed in the capital Bamako, over the past few weeks, the French army has conducted two counter-terrorism operations around Timbuktu and in the far-northern Ifoghas mountains. It is believed that troops are targeting militants belonging to the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), the Signatories in Blood, which is an armed unit founded by former al-Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, as well as fighters loyal to slain warlord Abdelhamid Abou Zeid. Abou Zeid and Belmoktar, both Algerians, were once leaders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which, along with MUJAO and a number of other militant groups, took control of northern Mali in 2012. In late February of last year, Abou Zeid was killed in fighting led by the French army in the Ifoghas mountain range. He is credited with having significantly expanded AQIM’s field of operations into Tunisia and Niger and for carrying out kidnapping activities across the region. Belmokhtar, who split from AQIM last year and launched the Signatories in Blood, which later masterminded the raid on Algeria’s In Amenas gas plant last year, remains at large. The launch of Operation Serval in January of last year resulted in many militants moving further north, particularly into the Ifoghas mountains, seeking shelter from the ground and air military campaign.
Despite France beginning to withdraw its troops, on Thursday, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian indicated that “not everything is finished, the terrorist risk in this part of Africa remains high,” adding that France “…will keep 1,000 soldiers who are carrying out counter-terrorism missions.” The fact that the terrorist risk in Mali remains high has been demonstrated through attacks that have targeted French and African forces and which have been claimed by Islamist insurgents. While residual groups of fighters are no longer able to carry out coordinated assaults, they continue to have the necessary abilities in order to regularly carry out small-scale attacks.
On Friday, flags were flown at half-mast in army barracks across Mali in commemoration of the two-year anniversary of a mass killing by Tuareg separatists, which came to be known as the massacre of Aguelhoc. When the northern town of Aguelhoc was taken on 24 January 2012, more than ninety soldiers and civilians had their throats slit or were shot in summary executions by separatist Tuaregs belonging to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. A statement released by the Ministry of Defence indicated that special prayers for the dead were planned in the town of Kati, which is located 15 kilometres northeast of Bamako, as well as religious services, which will be held on Sunday.